Every family has values, right? Do the decisions you make as a family accurately reflect your values?
By Nicole A. Van Peursem
Before discussing family values and the important role they play in multi-generational family dynamics we must first define the term. I’ve settled on dictionary.com’s concise entry:
family values, plural noun
The moral and ethical principles traditionally upheld and transmitted within a family, as honesty, loyalty, industry, and faith.
Now that we’ve defined the phrase “Family Values” I am going to assume that we all agree shared values within a family are important. How important? It depends on your values. Do you value harmony over honesty? Tradition over independence? While outlining this article I Googled and reviewed lists of values, and I’d like to share my favorites:
- Community Involvement
You will notice that I did not number these values. That was no accident. Creating a ranking would force me to prioritize these values and it is not necessary to do so.
Reread the list of values and now ask yourself:
What do you value?
What does your family value?
Are any of your values at odds?
If you find you’re having difficulty defining your values look around the room you are in. What do you see? Look at what’s there as well as what is not there. (And just because it’s not there doesn’t mean it’s “missing”). If how you live your life and how you allocate your resources are outward expressions of your values, a quick tour through your home or office will be an easy way to get you thinking about the values you project.
According to Rhona Vogel, President and Founder of Vogel Consulting, family values must be lived. “Values must first be articulated in an informal context. If a family demonstrates and really lives its values, the next generation will instinctively understand what the family stands for. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words.”
Formal meetings to discuss family values are not always necessary. Every day life provides many opportunities and Vogel recommends starting young. “Simple things like giving your child a piggy bank, and allowing them to chose how much to spend, how much to save and how and when to donate to others, are easy ways to engage young ones. Years later, I recommend encouraging teens to find a part time job.” As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching values to my children is easier said than done. While every parent wants to provide ample opportunity for their children to learn, how many parents are willing to allow their children to fail? “Allowing children to fail means allowing them to grow. Those lessons may seem insignificant while they are young, but it’s a great way for them to learn about themselves and their own values and priorities,” says Vogel.
If a family does not invest time and effort into building shared family values, conflict is likely. Barb Langkau, Client Service Director at Vogel, sees conflicting values as a major source of family dissonance. “So many family disagreements are the product of clashing values, or individual family members’ different interpretation of the same value. For example, the third generation grandchild may respect family traditions, but having known no other lifestyle, has a hard time appreciating those traditions or what they mean to the wealth creating generation.”
If you are having difficulty answering the values question perhaps your family should formally discuss the topic. I have seen many family meeting agendas with headings such as “Annual Meeting” or “Quarterly Planning Meeting”. While you may take time to talk about risk tolerance and investment style, how much time does your family dedicate to discussing your shared principles? If your family is struggling to work through a difficult decision, creating an agenda titled “Family Values” can provide a forum for the multigenerational family to reaffirm what’s most important. Just as a family is a collection of individuals, so each family’s values will be a collection of individual values. Taking the time to discuss and acknowledge different values can help strengthen a family. And, if communication, tradition, and preservation are values your family holds, such a meeting will be time well spent.
Langkau has seen this first hand. “Often, younger family members do not feel comfortable stating opinions different than those of their family elders. Teens and adult children may admire the generosity of the wealth creating generation, but it’s not uncommon for those second and third generations to feel some resentment as well. Not wanting to look greedy, they may feel entitled to money that is being given away, or want more control over how donations are made,” says Langkau. An independent facilitator can create a comfortable situation allowing all family members to openly share their opinions. This can be accomplished through individual, private discussions that are summarized and presented to the family as a whole. During the process you may learn that your family values harmony (conflict avoidance) over honesty and communication (conflict resolution).
Discussing your values may help you answer the difficult question Steffi Claiden posed last month, “So what do you want? What do you really, really want?” If you know your family values, and can tell your advisor what you really want, developing the appropriate wealth management strategy will be a much easier process for both you, your family and your advisors.
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